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Lapuhch: Tunica language awakening, a new methodology?

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Title: Lapuhch: Tunica language awakening, a new methodology?
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: For the past three years, linguists at Tulane have been working with members of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe of Louisiana to awaken their sleeping language. Here I present methods used to stimulate language use for learners of various ages with special attention to interactive classroom techniques with no living native-speaker guide.

In the spring of 2010, I was contacted by Ms. Brenda Lintinger, Councilwoman of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe of Louisiana. Ms. Lintinger asked for help in awakening Tunica, a language of Louisiana that has been sleeping for over sixty years. Since then a team of linguistics students from Tulane has been working with members of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe, especially the Pierite family, whose matriarch, Donna, responding to a prophetic dream, has become keeper of the language.

For the past twenty-five years, I have been running a summer Kaqchikel (Maya) language and culture program in Guatemala. We have adapted the “total involvement” second language methodology to an interactive classroom, situated in a cultural immersion setting. In our canonical class setting, we have a one-to-one teacher student ratio. This methodology is designed for use with a host of native speakers available to model the language and to situate it pragmatically. Within Guatemala, the methodology has been adapted to more traditional classrooms, where a single instructor leads a class of 30-40 students.

As successful as the methodology has been in the linguistically rich environment of Guatemala, adapting it to the Tunica-Biloxi case is a challenge as there are no native speakers to model the language. Recordings of the last native speaker, Sesostrie Youchigant, on wax cylinders, are so static-ky that even high-tech signal cleansing does not yield classroom-quality audio. Faced with this limitation, the Pierites have combined what Donna, a teacher and polyglot linguist, has gleaned from Mary Haas’ 1955 description of the language with what they know of Choctaw, an unrelated indigenous language of Louisiana and Mississippi, and give regular performances of songs and stories in Tunica. The Tulane group expanded on this base to rewrite two of the tales Haas collected from Youchigant and record these on CD. The tribe has distributed the booklet of tales with the CD to its members.

This summer the Pierite’s ran a Tunica language camp, with games, language lessons, recordings of New Orleans school children doing basic language modules, and take-home materials for the parents. This paper explores how language learners can substitute for native speakers as language models and language guides to provide a linguistically rich environment for Tunica-language acquisition.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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